An all-too-real terrorism-training exercise blinded a former federal air marshal in one eye when he was shot in the face with a simulated bullet and a defective helmet failed to protect him, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Dallas.
Shawn Parks, of Denton, said the incident happened during a training exercise in a mock jet near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when another marshal acting as a “terrorist” fired a weapon with a simulated bullet.
"There's a good-guy team and a bad-guy team,” Parks said in an interview. "Simulation rounds make the training very realistic. When you get hit, you know you get hit."
But during one exercise on Nov. 9, 2009, something went wrong, he said.
"I said, 'Ow, stop, hold,'” Parks said in an interview. “When I took my helmet off, a round fell out. The projectile fell out. Right then, we knew, 'There's a problem here.' "
The bullet penetrated the seam between the plastic shield and the helmet, striking Parks in the right eye and causing "traumatic optic neuropathy," according to the suit.
Parks filed the lawsuit against the helmet’s manufacturer -- General Dynamics Corp., and its subsidiary, Simunition Ltd. The helmet was the model FX9000, the lawsuit said.
Kendell Pease, vice president of government relations and communications for General Dynamics, declined to talk about the case, saying the company does not comment on pending lawsuits.
Parks, a former soldier in the U.S. Army, served in the first Iraq War. He then became a police officer in Richardson and Frisco before being hired one of the country’s first air marshals after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
The lawsuit asks for damages for Park's medical care, disfigurement, physical pain, mental anguish and loss of earnings. Parks said he can no longer work in law enforcement.
General Dynamics had changed the design of the helmet at some point before the accident so that the eye shield was better attached, but Parks was using an older one, the lawsuit said.
"You'd expect a company like General Dynamics to do a recall or at least warn the customers or the end users of this potential problem and get the product off the market, particularly when they've seemingly developed a model that fixes that problem," said Parks' attorney, Mike Guajardo.
Parks, a former U.S. Army soldier and police officer in Frisco and Richardson, said he volunteered to be an undercover federal air marshal after the terrorist attacks in 2001, the lawsuit said. As part of his job, he flew on domestic and international flights.
The lawsuit does not name the Department of Homeland Security or the Transportation Security Administration, which runs the air marshal program.
Parks said he believed his training overall was excellent and “by the book” on the day of the accident.
It’s not clear how many of the older-model helmets might still be in use around the country.
A TSA spokeswoman, Kim Thompson, declined to comment, citing advice from agency attorneys.
Parks said he now has trouble driving and has frequent migraines and regrets not being able to work in law enforcement.
"You get your whole life kind of ripped out from underneath you,” he said.
More: Read the lawsuit